Proposal scenario and ring for 'alternative' girlfriend?
April 23, 2010 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Calling all 'alternative' girls! I need some advice on how to propose to my girlfriend (I'm male). Expensive gifts don't impress her, and her tastes are more 'classic' than the norm. I love how she is, but my tastes are much more modern. I'd like to do (and offer) something unique and unforgettable but can't figure out what.

Backstory: GF and I have been together several years. Both early thirties. I'd like to propose on our upcoming anniversary. We've never really discussed marriage explicitly (although it's been in the air for a while) so this will come as a surprise to her.

As mentioned, she's quite an alternative girl (at least, in the context of our society). She's not impressed by 'designer' anything or material wealth. She loves natural stuff: cosmetics, biological ingredients, the outdoors. Old and historical as opposed to new and shiny. Dog-eared book rather than iPad; classical instead of contemporary; less instead of more; Eastern instead of Western. You get the idea.

My general taste is much more modern, although hers intrigues me and somehow complements mine (might sound bizarre, but it's true). Her classical preferences are like a country I'm still discovering that contains things I never knew I liked. But currently there's still a fundamental gap in the area of taste, and as a result I've never managed to get her a significant present that she truly finds amazing.

So here's my problem: considering what she's into, how can I propose to her in an unforgettable, unique way? What could I offer her that would give her a lasting reminder of it and rock her world? (She's not particularly traditional either, so I could forego the idea of the ring altogether in favour of something more unique.) Or should I be approaching this in a different way? Any novel ideas, experiences, preferences welcomed!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any special talents you could employ to make her something that tells a meaningful story about your relationship? Anyone loves a gift that takes a time, thought, and skill to make, and this would seem like a great opportunity to tailor something to her unique interests. It would be natural and historical, not manufactured and artificial.

An example of a creative proposal with tons of personalization and creativity (albeit with a ring) is this illustrator who took an antique book and wrote and illustrated his fiancee a story that lead up to the ring, resting in the hollowed out pages. It's truly lovely, sweet, and unconventional.
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 4:28 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you could find a really sweet antique jewellery store or second-hand shop, you could ask her to choose a piece of jewellery which tells her a story and which she loves, and then ask her if it could be an engagement gift.

Her tastes sound a lot like mine and i love second-hand jewellery :)

good luck!
posted by greenish at 4:43 AM on April 23, 2010

Awesome! Someone asked a question awhile ago about how to propose to their book-loving girlfriend. This was my answer.:

If you know she has a favorite book with the phrase "Will you marry me?" somewhere in the text, buy her a special edition and highlight that sentence. Then you can put a fancy bookmark on that page and wrap as normal. When she opens the book to check out the bookmark, her eye will be drawn to the highlighted text.

A 'novel' idea indeed (pardon the pun!). You could find an old, rare edition rather than a new one if she'd like that better.

And I love greenish's idea of getting an old piece of jewelry with some history to it.
posted by amicamentis at 5:15 AM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

The "will you marry me" book is a lovely idea, but if you buy an old rare edition of something, for goodness sake don't use a highlighter pen on it.
posted by emilyw at 5:30 AM on April 23, 2010 [20 favorites]

My sister and her husband made their rings together - they had a mutual friend who was a jeweller. Here's their story.
posted by divabat at 5:30 AM on April 23, 2010

Oh, yeah - don't highlight anything in the book with like, a highlighter. Highlight it in some other non-destructive manner.
posted by amicamentis at 5:44 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine wrote "Will you marry me?" in many, many different media

sand at the seashore
lit teacandles
scrabble words
as a crossword
alphabet soup

photographed each different "Will you marry me?", and turned the 12 or so photos into a very small (pocket sized) spiral bound book

which they then gave their beloved.

It toook about 2 weeks, done after work, but it was worth it for the look on their beloved's face and the story that they have to tell.

Could you do something like this?

Cross-stitch or embroider or carve or make in clay (fired and beautifully glazed) "Will you marry me?" and give them the object?
posted by Oceanesque at 5:44 AM on April 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

When my husband proposed, he did so with a ring that had been in his family since the 1800's. It was nothing fancy - plain gold, no gemstones with an engraving on the inside.

I've never been a jewelry person and spending money on diamonds is something I'm personally opposed to, so the antique ring was just perfect for me. I saw it as a symbol of enduring love and family rather than just a purchased adornment. (although I pass no judgment on people who love jewelry) :-)

I love everyone's crafty ideas! All the book ideas sound really sweet.
posted by MorningPerson at 5:58 AM on April 23, 2010

I proposed to my wife on a quickie vacation to Canyon de Chelley, at the Spider Woman Rock overlook.

With a plastic spider ring. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find those things out of season. You have to buy a gross (which is still cheap).
posted by notsnot at 6:00 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does she like flowers? There are traditional flower languages in a variety of cultures that have been used to convey traditional sentiment. You could find a book on Victorian flower language, for example, or some other culture's version (I know of Japanese and Chinese traditions, and I'm sure that there are more.) Then give her a bouquet that conveys a proposal of marriage (and maybe a few other sentiments like long life and happiness, family and prosperity) that she would only understand from having read the book. You could have someone from Etsy create a pressed-flower bookmark to ensure that she reads the right passage.

It's also possible that since she likes less instead of more, she's prefer an experience to remember instead of a physical gift to cherish. You said she loves the outdoors, maybe you could go hiking with her, and you could happen to come across a mysterious display of rocks that spell out "will you marry me?", and a convenient picnic basket?

For rings and the like, I definitely must recommend Twigs and Heather. They make custom jewelry from casting real bits of nature (or whatever you like) in silver. I have a couple necklaces by them, not only are they beautiful, they're also very well made. You could make a ring out of a strip of birch bark the two of you chose together, or a twig growing from a tree where you first dated, or whatever else would be meaningful.
posted by Mizu at 6:31 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

If the weather is nice enough in your area, how about a nice picnic lunch with just the two of you at a local park? And after lunch, you propose with the ring and/or a book and/or any of the several suggestions above.

Or, a picnic lunch followed by shopping for the ring at a secondhand jewelry store with a special edition of a book she loves.

I think so many of the above suggestions are fabulous that there's likely a way to tie several of them together into one special day.
posted by zizzle at 6:43 AM on April 23, 2010

Do what I did.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:06 AM on April 23, 2010

A friend of mine wrote a lightly fictionalized, lavishly illustrated account of his relationship, ending it with a proposal, and had a single copy professionally printed and bound. It's probably his wife's most cherished possession.

I'd also cast another vote for vintage/estate jewelry, and it wouldn't necessarily have to be a ring. A locket with both your pictures, or a charm bracelet with charms symbolizing various events in your relationship (you could have one engraved with a proposal?) would also be adorable. Memail me if you want help finding the perfect vintage piece and I'll send you suggestions from some reputable online dealers. I don't have any financial stake in it, but I love vicarious shopping for vintage jewelry, and so far I've hooked up six relatives, friends, and friends of friends with their perfect engagement rings.
posted by timeo danaos at 7:06 AM on April 23, 2010

I'd like to do (and offer) something unique and unforgettable

You realize that this notion is modern and un-classical, right?
posted by Thug at 7:14 AM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

When I proposed to my better half, I opted out of the traditional ring box and made a mix cd of the songs we had shared the entire time we'd been dating. I made cover art and tracklisting by hand and proposed with that. The ring was the best I could afford, but it was nothing overly fancy. As she's said more than once, the size of the ring is unimportant, it's the idea and love behind it.

Also, seconding the vintage, second hand, antique ring idea. Hit up an antique mall or a family run jewelry business that has older jewelry. Try to talk to an old man or old lady and tell them your situation. You can also check Etsy for vintage or handmade jewelry.

Good luck!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 7:31 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your girlfriend sounds exactly like me. I would suggest an antique engagement ring. I don't even care about marriage/wedding/proposals, and I don't really like diamonds, but a carefully chosen antique engagement ring would probably melt me. It wouldn't have to be an official engagement ring (the traditional diamond solitaire). A Victorian pearl ring with filigree would be nice. If it had an inscription from the previous owner, then even better.

Other gifts that have enormously impressed me were: An antique Russian ID bracelet. Vintage valentine's day cards. An huge vase full of wildflowers that he picked because he knew I prefer them to florist bouquets.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:44 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the ring, what about something from a natural material like wood or wood with recycled metal or wood and stone or a big old rock.
posted by BlooPen at 7:46 AM on April 23, 2010

These are some lovely, imaginative ideas.

But really the most classic thing to do would be to just look in her eyes and say, "I love you. Will you marry me?"

(well, not classic. Classic would be to arrange everything with her father. But that's TOO classic.)
posted by jb at 7:56 AM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also, if you're looking for something unique, it's possible to get a custom ring designed for less than you may expect, especially if you chose a stone other than a diamond.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:05 AM on April 23, 2010

I got my alternative bride to be a cheap gold engagement ring with a white sapphire instead of a diamond. I asked her best friend for ring buyin advice. She had told me before that she didn't want me to propose in a "cheesy" way: no skywriting, no billboards, no basketball games. I ended up proposing in the courtyard of the schonbrun palace in Vienna. Now, no everyone will have that kind of opportunity, but if you do it someplace pretty or cool that has some importance to the both of you, like the first place you kissed or your favorite ice cream shop or somethng, she'll be very happy.
posted by orville sash at 8:41 AM on April 23, 2010

Here's the google results for Steampunk Ring. Anything strike your fancy?
posted by Truthiness at 9:24 AM on April 23, 2010

Proposing is pretty unforgettable. Beyond that, don't worry too much. You don't want to spoil her by impressing her with gimmicks. (I'm married to a similarly classic-leaning gal for 25 years now.)

That said, a classic, vintage ring is definitely the way to go.
posted by Doohickie at 9:30 AM on April 23, 2010

My fiance proposed on a Sunday morning, in bed, kindof out of the blue. He just turned and looked at me and said "I want to be with you for the rest of my life. Will you marry me?" It was totally romantic to me because it wasn't planned or scripted.

I had told him many times before that I wanted to pick out my own engagement ring. I had a number of concerns, including
- ethics of the diamond trade
- the fact that we're totally broke
- I didn't want something that anyone else had
So we went to some antique stores. I found this awesome ring from the late 30's or early 40's. It has a small diamond (as much as I was never into diamonds, the sparkle is awesome I wont' lie), and is just a really pretty unique design.
posted by radioamy at 9:34 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just came across this jeweler who makes nature-inspired wedding rings that I love.

For the proposal, have a picnic outdoors at some park or in a forest. Get a bit of twine and absently make cat's cradle or whatever while you guys talk. She'll probably be vaguely wondering what the deal with the twine is, but whatever. Then tie the twine around her ring finger. When she's all, "Um, okay?" slip the ring on the other end of the twine. It'll fall down the string and onto her finger.

I have no idea if that's, like, the worst engagement scenario ever, since romancing me just takes a bottle of wine and some specious knowledge of Shakespeare.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:34 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

If she likes old and historical, you might like my story. My husband proposed to me by taking me on a surprise holiday to Amsterdam, then proposing with an empty ring box. We then got to spend our holiday scouring old antique jewellery shops until we found a ring together. Like your girlfriend, i'm a lover of the old and counter-cultural, and I can't tell you how pleased I was that my husband understood that and let me choose a ring while still making it special.

The ring i chose has a small 300-year-old hand-cut diamond in it, and is a simple antique gold setting. I didn't even want a diamond (quite vehemently), but in the end that was the one that spoke to me - i love the idea of continuing on the stone's centuries of history. It really was such a lovely experience.

We got my wedding ring at a pawn shop here in Edinburgh for £18 -- again, i loved finding out that it was from the 50's and knowing that we were adding to its history.
posted by ukdanae at 9:56 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

The best proposal story that I've ever heard was this: the guy left a note in his apartment for his girlfriend to find one evening when she got home from work. The note was a little poem that had a clue for a place that she was supposed to go to. He had planned out a whole scavenger hunt for her that took her to places that had special meaning in their relationship. He had gone in to each place beforehand and told the employees what he was doing, and what his girlfriend looked like, and he had them give her a flower and the next clue. So at each place she went there were people waiting excitedly for her to come in -- it must have been so cool for her to have strangers cheering her on and being really happy for her. Obviously she knew what was up, but the buildup must have been really exciting. The last place he sent her to was a spot in a park that they loved, where he was waiting for her with a ring.

I just think that's the coolest. I'm almost sad that I ever heard this story because if I ever get proposed to it probably won't be as awesome and I'm going to have a hard time not being disappointed, which will make me feel like a terrible person.

If you did that, afterwards you guys together could make a little scrapbook that has a note on each page and the flower that went with it -- and maybe take an artsy picture of the place and put that on the page too. That would be really special.

I definitely nth the antique ring suggestion. And probably not a diamond. It would be especially awesome if you could find a ring that has a good story behind it that you could tell her.
posted by roscopcoletrane at 10:25 AM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Outdoor scavenger hunt or some kind of clue-laden game (with rhyming clues for extra cheese factor) that leads to a bottle of wine with the ring/gift tied to it. Bonus points if it's a city-wide hunt and involves meaningful locations that tell the story of your life together or perhaps where you want it to go. Bonus bonus points if it includes a gelato (or her favorite dessert) pit-stop.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 11:03 AM on April 23, 2010

I went to a local arts and craft store, and used ink-stamps and their button making machine to create a button for each letter of my proposal message. The buttons were mailed out to my and her friends and family in Vancouver, Iceland, Chicago, England, and Oklahoma, where they took pictures of themselves wearing them, and mailed them back to me. I got a photo album from Etsy, assembled the pictures in order, and gave her the book on the beach near our apartment at the time on her birthday.

She broke down sobbing a few pages into the book - it's not like she wasn't expecting the proposal, but I've never been the big-romantic-gesture type, and it caught her off guard, and those few minutes of shock and surprise while she was first leafing through the book are moments I'll treasure forever - I felt like a magician and superhero rolled into one.

The important thing isn't really what I did, though - it's what's important to her, and you, about marriage. For my partner, it's about her partner becoming part of her family, who are a big deal in her life, so my proposal reflecting that really touched her.

Also extremely important: For reasons unknown to me, my nerves about marriage caused me to be inexplicably be a total DICK to her for a few days before the proposal. Watch out for this, and avoid!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:02 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your girlfriend's tastes sounds a lot like mine.

Nthing the antique ring idea: if you have an heirloom you can use, go for it; if not, either pick one out as suggested above, or if you're not super-sure of her tastes, plan a special trip (like ukdanae's story) to pick one out together.

Oh, if you are getting a ring ahead of time, see if you can get it sized beforehand - either by sneakily finding out her ring size, possibly enlisting the help of one of her friends; or borrowing one ring that you know fits her (if she wears rings) and taking it to a jeweler. It's a (minor) bummer to get engaged and then have to wait a week for your ring because it's being sized.

If there are any females she is close to, though, seriously, pick their brains. They will probably have lots of ideas, or, in the very least, you can run your idea by them to see if they think she'll like it or can recommend any tweaks.

No matter what you do, I think it's hard to go wrong with something that's personal to the both of you and has a lot of thought put into it. That said, "a lot of thought" doesn't have to equate to a lot of anything else - "classic" frequently overlaps with "simple."

This post just charmed the gosh darn heck out of me, btw. Props for being so sweet to your soon-to-be fiancee!
posted by AV at 3:41 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best proposal story that I've ever heard was this: the guy left a note in his apartment for his girlfriend to find one evening when she got home from work. The note was a little poem that had a clue for a place that she was supposed to go to. He had planned out a whole scavenger hunt for her that took her to places that had special meaning in their relationship.

This will probably sound churlish, but just to present an alternative viewpoint, I always particularly disliked this variety of proposal. If Mr. Danaos had planned a scavenger hunt for me, I would have felt that I was expected to jump through hoops in order to earn my prize. I didn't want to earn a prize. I wanted to be the prize.
posted by timeo danaos at 5:13 PM on April 23, 2010

Also extremely important: For reasons unknown to me, my nerves about marriage caused me to be inexplicably be a total DICK to her for a few days before the proposal. Watch out for this, and avoid!

Oh man! My husband did this! But then he apologized by mocking himself ruthlessly, and it has become one of our in-jokes. So it's all ok now.
posted by emjaybee at 6:59 PM on April 23, 2010

You know, last night, as I was on my way home from performing a marriage, I happened upon a proposal on the Metro platform, a woman down on one knee proposing to her Metro-employee girlfriend who'd just gotten off work. It could not have been any sweeter, any more joyous than that. So don't overthink this plate of beans.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:47 AM on April 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

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